Sand Castle Lands


The Hyperfine Structure of Things
by R.J. LeBlanc


Wesleyan of Yesterday


We move too fast, thought James. And because we do so we miss the little things, the details of the landscape across which we travel. He was walking back from the Alumni Office at the start of the college Homecoming events, and started to walk through the backyard of a fraternity house when he spotted an interesting piece of architecture extending from the building.


Hyperfine Structure of the Wall: #1

The swirl of green moss, spiderwebs and texture pulled him toward the low stone wall and he stopped to explore the landscape of color and texture. It's like a painting, he thought, If I could take it down and put a frame around it people would say how wonderful it was. Okay, I can't do that very easily, he thought as he unslung his camera and framed the subject; but I can photograph it. . .


Hyperfine Structure of the Wall: #2

James tried several different angles, finding new textures and colors with each shot. How much do we miss? he thought -- as we scurry through this life, getting from Point A to B and not seeing what's in between, how much do we miss? Or if we do see the landscapes around us they are often just a vague outline. The structure, the "hyperfine structure" gets lost.

Then there is a whole world from childhood that we lose as we grow into adults. We lose touch with the world of the "ground" that we know intimately because we get down on our hands and knees. We get dirty with sand and soil and mud and water and stuff. When we walk to school or play in the yard we see the sidewalk cracks as canyons, the grass and weeds as a forest stretching out to forever . . .

Then we get bigger and further away from the ground;  we get older and can't bend down so much anymore; we stay "clean" all the time and don't want to get our hands dirty. We can't get excited at little stuff, like the sound of a cricket in the woods on a Fall evening just before winter arrives. Somehow we have to act different because we're older; it won't be "cool" or "hot" or whatever the definition is for acting "adult." That fine line again, the difference between actually being adult or just acting like one because of preconceived ideas.


It's the same for people too, he thought. I pass by dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people each day, more than that if I drive or fly across the country. I pass countless houses, apartments, businesses, never stopping to look in, to say hello, to ask, what do you do here? Who are you? How are you? Is there anything we can do to help each other?

All of us are related, according to the latest DNA hypothesis; so I guess that means we come  from the original lifeform that proliferated on this planet. That car that I just cut-off on the turnpike during the weekend when I was in such a hurry to get to my coffeestop on time, it was full of my family, men, women and children, all related to me, no matter what I think of them personally, or they of me, for that matter. I dared to risk their lives just for a cup of coffee? Those relatives: they come in all sizes, shapes, colors and descriptions as nature adapted them to survive in the different climates of the world; but cousins they are, every last one of them.

Going a step further: then, if we all came from the same original DNA aren't we more than cousins, aren't we all one and the same, aren't we all just extensions of that original lifeform. To put it bluntly, if all things on earth are related, and are part of the same protoplasm, then isn't there just one human -- US -- all of us who have ever lived from the beginning to now, aren't we all one person multiplied to excess and extended in time through the process of regeneration?


Test tube full of DNA

James remembered one particular moment a week ago when a young woman, a freshman at the college stopped by to show him her test tube full of DNA: how excited she was at the importance of what she was holding in her hand, and how eager to share her discovery. So sad, he thought, that in a year or two she might be blase, her enthusiasm worn off. That "stuff" in the test tube will just be Science, as usual, neatly catalogued and filed, and not particularly wonderful.

Hmmm! he thought, Now that I'm past the half-century mark its easier for me now, to say and do what I want, to be the person who I think I am, to not have to pretend to be somebody who fits in just to be part of the crowd. But it hasn't always been that easy.

I think I'll go down and get some more pictures of the wall with its cobwebs; the morning sun is at the right angle.

As he headed across campus he thought, Well, now its a downhill run. After thirty-five years at the school it's time to packup and move out and think about the rest of it, Time that is; or how much I have left of it. I guess I have a while yet to look at the hyperfine structure of things, to appreciate the spider webs and moss, the mushrooms and weathered driftwood along some deserted beaches.


92 Theatre

He walked across campus toward the "wall" to shoot more pictures but in passing by the "92 Theatre" he stopped and looked up at the construction-staging all around the building. Well, he thought, the old ladys getting a new facelift. I'm glad that I explored the old face before this happened. Those dimples and cracks, the green patina and pattern of wrinkles across the surface gave her a certain character.

So, now she'll have another character for the new century. She'll change just as the people who come here will change, the old ones will leave as new ones take their places. Those ancient buildings will get rebuilt or new ones will replace them. I'm glad I took the time to explore the old face, to study it, photograph it, and try to find some meaning in the weathered expressions, before they disappeared.

He'd been out several mornings, even before he knew of the coming renovations to the buildings and explored, with camera,  much of the external surface, investigating cracks and crevices with his camera. Fortunately he hadn't known of the renovations, at that time, and so he explored the vertical world from ground up to as far as he could see with a certain sense of leasure. It was not the desperation of an archeologist whose relics are to be inundated by the waters of a new dam. Practically every inch of the building was like the landscape of some ancient world, merely waiting to be discovered and explored.

Yet he felt a kinship with that ancient, scarred exterior. After 35 years at Wesleyan and 65 years of life there was a camaraderie of sorts with the old building. Theater: life is theater, he thought, acting, pretending, trying to understand what the "play of life" is all about. And each new play has its rules to be learned, if one doesn't want to lose . . .

I hope that young lady with the bottle of DNA keeps her sense of wonder and joy at discovering things. I hope she always gets excited when she finds something new and takes an extra moment to share it with others. I hope she already knows who she is and doesn't have to keep trying to be that somebody other who she really is.

Autumn, like a rainbow unfolding its wings, spread down from the Berkshires . Then it was all around us. Continuing with my search for the hyperfine structure of the world I walked out across the campus headed for that wall down by the alumni office. On Foss Hill I stopped at the observatory to look at the moss on the north wall; the growth there was not extensive and rather subtle but still worth a look and a few photos. At the same time I had to catch the rising sun as it rose over 92 Theatre, the Chapel and administration buildings.


Hyperfine structure at The Observatory #1.

As I photographed the moss on the observatory wall, then finished and walked down the hill toward the Alumni Office I explored each tree that I passed by, looking for interesting textures or shapes. I knew that when I arrived at the wall I'd be able to stay there forever, finding new dimensions to the cracks, crevices, spiderwebs and textures of moss.

There are so many ways to "see" the world. If I were an engineer I'd be exploring the mechanics of the wall, a chemist would look at the composition, a biologist might be intrigued by the various growths. My interest, as a photographer was the shape, texture, color and the mystery of all that I didn't know about the subject that I was exploring.


Hyperfine structure at the Observatory #2.

The world or anything in it is never the same from day to day. As a photographer I notice that when I return to a subject it is never quite the same. The light or time of day is different and the subject has changed because of the weather, the season, human or animal intervention or other factors which have made the scene just a little bit different from what it was the last time.

So too I've changed since that last visit; my thoughts have evolved new pathways and I might see things in another way than I had previously. Then too, what I found visually stimulating the last time might not be so intriguing this time but some other aspect of the subject might "catch my eye."


Hyperfine Structure of "The Wall" #1.

Gradually I worked my way from tree to tree and then on down the street to the backyard of the Alumni and Fraternity buildings. Then finally to the wall. It was as interesting as I'd remembered and I got down to work in exploring. Mostly the cracks with their spiderwebs caught my attention.


Hyperfine structure of "the wall" #2.

In a sense I felt like a scientist on this day, categorizing the nooks and crannies of the wall and the little world of tree roots, air conditioning machinery and stuff around it. I laughed inwardly, realizing that nobody other than myself would ever look at the details of these webs or be the least bit interested in "the hyperfine structure" of this wall. Well, that's just the way of it. People still fly to distant countries and sleep in air-conditioned hotels in Cairo, only venturing out on the streets with a tour guide. Then how could you expect them to get down on their hands and knees to peer into a crack in the wall in a Middletown backyard? And that thought in itself was worth at least one small laugh, well a chuckle, out loud . . .


Hyperfine Structure of "The Wall"  #3.

As I explored and photographed different parts of "the wall" and its environment I realized that this was only the beginning of my exploration of this subject. These photos would then become a base to be used for variation on the theme.


Hyperfine Structure of "the wall" #4


Go to: One Morning's Odyssey

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